8 Rules of Scriptural Interpretation
"Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth" (2 Tim 2:15).
1. ENLIST THE HELP OF THE HOLY SPIRIT IN YOUR STUDY OF SCRIPTURE
Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come (Jn 16:13).
But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him (1 Jn 2:27).
But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man (1 Cor 2:14-15).
Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures (Lk 24:45).
It is easy to forget that the Bible is a coded book written in a spiritual language. This means that we cannot understand it on our own. And therefore, we must pray and ask the Lord to help us understand His Word through the illumination of the Holy Spirit. We should do this every time we open the Scriptures. Those who merely rely on their intellectual reasoning to decipher the Bible or treat it like a textbook are bound to adopt a flawed understanding of Scripture.
When the Holy Spirit illuminates the Scriptures to the Believer, he or she receives inspired revelation. Inspired revelation is much more superior than mere Bible knowledge. This fact is especially clear in the original Greek of the New Testament, which distinguishes human knowledge (gnosis) from Spirit inspired revelation (rhema). While gnosis refers to the knowledge of God’s Word (the logos), rhema refers to the Spirit-derived understanding of the Word. To better appreciate the importance of this, author Watchman Nee provides the following explanation:
"In Matthew 4:4 Jesus said, '"It is written, 'Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word (rhema) that proceeds out of the mouth of God."' ...Can we say that man shall not live by 'bread' alone, but by the Word of God recorded in the Bible? No. We are not saying that the written Word of God is of no use, but that logos—the Word of God recorded in the Bible—is of no use to us by itself. ''…for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life'' (2 Cor 3:6).
''...Both logos and rhema are the Word of God, but the former is God's Word objectively recorded in the Bible, while the latter is the word of God revealed to us at a specific occasion.
" To show you what rhema looks like in context of Scripture, notice the following example: And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word (RHEMA) of God (Eph 6:17). It is interesting that while the Word of God normally appears as logos in the Greek text, here in Ephesians 6:17 the word rhema was chosen instead. This leads us to wonder if Christians who are deficient in rhema are more likely to wield the Word of God like a blunt sword with little penetrating power, instead of using it like the “sharp two-edged sword” described in Scripture (Heb 4:12). So as much as we want to understand the spiritual themes of the Bible, we cannot go about it with an intellectual or logic-only approach. We must approach the Word of God as though an encrypted document that needs supernatural interpretation which only the Holy Spirit is able to provide. But there is a spirit in man: and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding (Job 32:8).''
2. AVOID PRIDE AND SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS SO THAT GOD DOES NOT BLIND YOU!
The Pharisees were convinced that they knew everything. They were self-righteous and proud. And so they scoffed at Christ’s message and mocked Him. But even today the "leaven" of the Pharisees still persists in the lives of many Believers, causing them to become spiritually blind:
They have not known nor understood: for he hath shut their eyes, that they cannot see; and their hearts, that they cannot understand (Isa 44:18).
He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them (Jn 12:40).
3. RECOGNIZE THAT THE BIBLE NATURALLY DIVIDES INTO THE FOLLOWING FIVE CATEGORIES
(A). Historical record of factual events
(B). God's law
(C). Parables with allegorical meaning
(D). Prophetic text
(E). Doctrinal and theological teachings
The stories that exist in the Bible are part of the historical record and must be taken literally. If we try to “spiritualize” the Bible’s factual events, such as the 6 day creation or the Red Sea crossing, and make them symbolic, we will harm our understanding of the Scriptures and become steeped in error. The Bible records many historical events that are both supernatural and miraculous, yet they are REAL, and serve to highlight the all powerful nature of our Creator.
God’s law can be applied practically and literally to every area of our life. His commands are created to benefit us and should not be discarded through poor interpretation of the Scriptures.
Parables are stories that are allegorical and instructive. They are merely used to help illustrate a spiritual lesson.
Like parables, prophecy is rife with symbolism, but much more complex. As a result, Christians should be extra careful not to immediately extract the plain or apparent meaning from prophetic text.
Most prophetic text can be divided into the following four categories:
I. Apocalyptic prophecies that pertain to God's judgement. Note: These often contain graphic imagery and symbolism that's intentionally exaggerated or unrealistic
II. Dualistic prophecies with symbols that apply to multiple things or events
III. Repeating prophecies that pertain to events of the past, yet will repeat in the future
IV. Prophecies that apply to the New Testament Church, but appear to describe ancient Israel
Since prophecy was written in an ancient poetic style, it contains a great deal of apocalyptic imagery and symbolism that was better understood by the culture of its time. To overcome this problem, overly ambiguous prophecies should be cross-referenced against those that are clearly understood based on their internal content.
Doctrine and Theology
The New Testament's teachings form the basis of our doctrines and theology. For the most part, these may be understood literally and applied directly to our lives. Some doctrines and theological paradigms are not as apparent as others and may require careful and prayerful study.
4. ALLOW SCRIPTURE TO INTERPRET SCRIPTURE (COMPARE SCRIPTURE WITH SCRIPTURE)
It is dangerous to force our own interpretation upon the Scriptures. An interpretation of Scripture that expresses the personal bias, opinions, or ideas of the interpreter, rather than the true meaning of the text is referred to as eisegesis. Put simply, eisegesis is whenever a foreign notion is forced upon the Scriptures in an unnatural manner, while violating its overall harmony. The opposite of eisegesis is exegesis, which seeks to extract from the text the meaning that harmonizes best with the rest of Scripture. Exegesis is the correct method of biblical interpretation.
To avoid eisegesis, it is best to consult a concordance or interlinear Bible for the proper use of a word or phrase, and to see how it is used elsewhere in Scripture.
5. CONTEXT IS KING
Have you discovered a hard-to-understand passage? Go back to the beginning of the chapter and read carefully through in order to locate the subject and theme. Often, this will help you solve the meaning of the passage. However, it is sometimes necessary to go back to the beginning of the book in order to extract the native interpretation and how it relates to a particular verse. This is the best way to gain context.
6. WHEN IN DOUBT CONSULT A CONCORDANCE
Some Bible versions contain mistranslations of particular words. A good concordance, such as Vine's or Strong's (classic editions) will help you locate the original Hebrew or Greek word and its most accurate meaning. This is especially helpful when attempting to dissect a particularly controversial teaching.
7. BE MINDFUL OF ANCIENT CULTURE
The Bible contains various idioms and expressions and recounts certain traditions that hardly mean anything to those of us in the modern era. It is important to realize that the grammar and speech and even lifestyle practices of Western society are greatly disconnected from the Bible period. So study history first before cementing your assumptions on any particular issue.
And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge... (2 Pet 1:5).
8. READ THE BIBLE FROM COVER TO COVER (GEN-REV)
No one reads a book by starting in the middle, or at the end and working their way backwards. The same can be said of the Bible. We need to see it as a progressive narrative with a vital message about God’s relationship with man. To gain crucial perspective, we need to start at the beginning (Genesis) and work our way to the very end (Revelation). By reading it thus we will be able fully comprehend its message.